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Photo: Charlotte Southren
Discovering the cuddle curl when you breastfeed your baby lying down.
When I was pregnant for the first time, I remember being struck by something a mother at a prenatal class told us. She recommended all new mothers get the hang of, early on, breastfeeding lying down, for the simple reason that this eliminates the need to parent for as many as 12 hours out of every 24. From my cursory observations, it was already apparent that motherhood was a tiring business and, as I’ve always been fond of my rest, I squirreled away that nugget of advice early on. A mother at my yoga for pregnancy class, who was expecting her third baby, recommended we read Three in a Bed, I didn’t. When I actually found there were three in my bed, the title came drifting back to me in the still of the night. I bought the book and devoured it, feeling instantly exonerated for keeping my baby with me at all times.
After a frightening separation from my son immediately following his birth, I’d struggled to breastfeed. I often ended up lying down with him, exhausted, and at a loss how to encourage him to latch on. He seemed to fight with my breast, as though he were trying to get it out of his way rather than in to his mouth. But it was lying down with him on the bed, half drowsing in and out of sleep, that he first managed to latch on well and breastfeed properly. The brand new Moses basket and heirloom reconditioned cot with expensive new mattress were never needed. “Babies learn to breastfeed by breastfeeding” was another remark that was becoming a reality for us.
Throughout time and all over the world, mothers have been adopting the same position to keep their babies safe when they sleep
Throughout time and all over the world, mothers have been adopting the same position to keep their babies safe when they sleep.1 One of the reasons that bedsharing is safer when you’re breastfeeding is the way a nursing mother instinctively positions her body next to her baby’s, in what the La Leche League International authors of Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and Naptime strategies for the Breastfeeding Family call a “cuddle curl.”
The cuddle curl
The cuddle curl is nature’s way of protecting a baby during sleep. When a mother lies down with her breastfed baby, her knees come up and her lower arm tucks up under her head or pillow, or down to wrap around her baby—not all mothers find it as comfortable to rotate their arm as they do to move it up. In this way, the cuddle curl creates a protected space for the baby. There’s no way a mother can roll toward her baby because her bent legs prevent this from happening. No one else can roll into the baby because the mother’s knees and elbows are in the way.
“Even during sleep a breastfed baby will instinctively stay with his face near the breast, because that’s the center of his universe (and his kitchen).” 2
By about four months, any responsible adult can bedshare as safely as a responsible breastfeeding mother.3
(1) Ball, H. Parent-infant bed-sharing behaviour. Human Nature 17, no. 3 (2006):301–318. Ball, H. and Klingaman, K. Breastfeeding and mother-infant sleep proximity: in Trevathan, W. Smith, E., and McKenna, J. (eds.) Evolutionary Medicine, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
(2) Richard, C. et al. Sleeping position, orientation, and proximity in bedsharing infants and mothers. Sleep 19, no. 9 (1996): 685–690. Baddock, S. et al. Differences in infant and parent behaviours during routine bed sharing compared with cot sleeping in the home setting. Pediatrics 117, no. 5 (2006):1599–1607.
(3) Blair, P. et al. Babies sleeping with parents: case-control study of factors influencing the risk of the sudden infant death syndrome. CESDI SUDIResearch Group. BMJ 319, no. 7223 (1999):1457–1461. For full list of references see Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and Naptime strategies for the Breastfeeding Family
Bedsharing Babies, Breastfeeding is Good for Mothers Too, Cry It Out, In the Still of the Night, Never Let Me Go, Nights, Nighttime Parenting: Baths, Boobies, & Bedsharing, Nursing My Baby to Sleep, Pacifiers: The Impact on Breastfeeding, Should I Night Wean?, Sweet Sleep (author interview), The Safe Sleep Seven, Why Breastfeeding Is Good for Mothers’ Mental Health, NEW November 2016: UNICEF Co-Sleeping and SIDS: A Guide for Health Professionals